Sharon's Summer

Sharon's Summer
Sharon Chooses High Elevation and High Temperature

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Broadcast From a Quiet Planet

Rarely does rain get past the guardian mountains that flank the west side of Death Valley.  Each summer day, the forecast is the same—115 to 130 degrees and clear sky, about 90 degrees in the early morning.  I decided to see the foothills of a range on the east side by bicycle today.  A narrow one-way road twists up from below sea level on the valley floor, interestingly called Artist’s Drive.

But first, let me show you these pictures of footprints—mine—one at International Falls, Minnesota last February (left), and the other yesterday on the sand dunes (right).

And these pictures of the effect of wind on snow, also from last February in I-Falls (left), and wind on sand, taken yesterday (right).

I can imagine pictures of waves on the ocean or clouds in the sky, sand clouds as Lois P Jones calls the dunes.

I left the motel in darkness to park at Furnace Creek Ranch and begin pedaling before sunrise.  Ten miles of easy riding in the valley turned abruptly steep on Artist’s Drive.

I climbed a thousand feet among painted rocks, sculptured gullies, collaged ridges, and shapes not derived by any actions of nature as far as I could tell.  The Artist’s style has changed and developed in this studio for a long time.  Splashes of misplaced paint as in Susan Dobay’s studio, and chips of discarded rock in the gullies testify to a pattern in form and beauty, shapes rising above these discards—by design, by intuition, by mere bending to forces that call it to be?  Some would call it an arid and inhospitable mountain range, furrowed with dry channels, and since the borax has played out, having no value to humankind.  Those people are not artists.

By ten in the morning a fierce heat had already pressed its nearly intolerable burden on the quivering air.  I pushed upward into the fever of the day, and surprisingly within the heat, I remembered cold of International Falls.  Stopping often, finding no shade, and knowing the air had not neared its sweltering high for the day, consuming my two gallons of carried water at an alarming rate, it appeared clear that I could not do this all day.  I arrived back at Furnace Creek ready to sit in the café’s air conditioning.  But the café was closed.  I drove all the way back to Beatty and ate at the excellent Ensenada Grill.


  1. The barrenness is as stunning as the beauty. Did you turn into a rock in the lower left hand corner of the lower left hand photo?? (I did write a poem of instructions for that once.) It's amazing you find the words in that heat... I think they are melted into those ridges and you must pry them out with sharp stones and sticks... no, I don't even see any sticks. I can understand the parallels in your extremes... and the lone quality of the journey... glad you can cool off and relax after that Artist's Drive.

  2. I feel as a rock sometimes—stoic, old, brittle. I added a picture that I had left out—the colors of an artist’s palate. I can almost see giant brushes.

  3. Wow! Amazing colors... where do they come from????

  4. Thank goodness for Ensenada Grill! Beautiful descriptions that are stark and vivid. I feel the hardness of the earth and see the extremes of cold and heat as sisterly companions. Yes the sands are like clouds and the snow is sastrugi, a migrating bird.


  5. Kathabela, the colors are mixed by the artist/alchemist as he weathers rocks on his palate: copper weathers to green, iron to red, or so I’m told.

    Lois, the extremes of cold and heat impressed Dante to place the circles of ice below the circles of fire in his vision of Hell. Interesting.

  6. I am assuming that this is the hottest temperatures you have ever ridden your bike in. I am surprised your tires don´t melt into the pavement. Keep on pedaling early, you probably didn´t see many cars either.